In 2007, Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding stood in front of about 80 seventh-grade football players following a game between Belair and Southeast.
“I told them how great they could be if they all come together and stick together,” Bolding said. “And I can still remember those little tots on their knee, looking at me.
“You don’t know if they are going to be any good or not. Anybody who says they do, they don’t have a clue what they are talking about.”
Bolding and his assistant coaches believed if they could keep 30 of those seventh graders, then by the time they are all seniors, Pine Bluff could be pretty good.
Of those 80, 29 stayed and Pine Bluff (12-2) made it to the 2012 6A state championship before losing to Greenwood at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Dec. 1.
For his efforts, Bolding has been named The Commercial’s 2012 Southeast Arkansas Coach of the Year.
“This was year six and we made it to the finals,” Bolding said. “We had 29 seniors and we are going to have over 20 seniors from here on out probably.
“It has just been exciting year coaching these young men and watching them grow up. There is a big difference between a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old. Getting to watch them mature and grow up, that’s pretty cool.”
In 2012, Pine Bluff was led by two-time All-State running back Walter Ashley, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards on 176 carries with 13 touchdowns. He had 22 catches for 373 yards for three touchdowns.
Ashley also had 10 punt returns for 254 yards and one touchdown.
In his six years with Pine Bluff, Bolding has led the Zebras to two conference championships, two state finals and four appearances in the state semifinals.
“We’ve done everything but one thing and that’s win it,” Bolding said. “And it’s coming, but its pretty tough around here.”
Bolding said he relies on his family’s support to help deal with the stress and pressure of being a head coach at Pine Bluff.
“I spent a lot of time with my wife and daughter,” Bolding said.
Bolding said when his daughter Alex was younger, it was easier.
“She didn’t even care who won the game,” Bolding said. “I come home and it didn’t matter what happened.
“Now, she’s a critic.”
Last year, when Pine Bluff got beaten by Lake Hamilton real bad at home, Alex met him at the gate and she told him “that was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.”
She then turned and stomped off.
Bolding said Alex is a lot like Hayden Panettiere’s character from “Remember the Titans.”
“She gets that a lot,” Bolding said. “She helps out here a lot during the summer and all the players know her and watch out for her.
“She knows all of them and loves them. She’s known all of these seniors since she was in the seventh grade too.”
Bolding also praised his assistant coaches for help with the stress.
“You got to have good assistant coaches, and we got that here,” Bolding said. “That spreads the stress around some. Especially if you are willing to delegate to them.”
Pine Bluff’s coaching staff includes: Prestard Jordan, Antonio Lovelady, Josh Keith, Rod Stinson, Freddie Culclager, Rich Nekoranik, Tyrone Jones, Jason Mitchell, Ryan Stinson and Roy Hutchins.
This is Bolding’s third head coaching position after coaching at Marked Tree from 1998 to 2001 and Stuttgart from 2001 to 2007. He graduated from Henderson State University in 1991 and the University of Arkansas in 1988.
Two-time All State linebacker/fullback Kelvin Sergeant had 186 yards on 19 carries with seven touchdowns in 2012. He also had nine catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Bolding said keeping his players motivated is pretty simple.
“You work them and you work them hard in January, February, April, and March,” Bolding said. “So that when the season comes up, they’ve paid a very dear price.
“They don’t need a lot of motivation, because it is going to come from inside them.
“Keeping them focused is another animal.”
Bolding said because there are so many distractions, especially in Pine Bluff, to distract them from what their goals are.
“You got to keep them real tuned into those goals.”
Bolding credited the senior leadership for keeping the team focused.
“When I first got here, we had very few players that had played in this program for three years and very few seniors,” Bolding said. “Practically none that had played six years.
“You aren’t going to win at the highest level without these guys who have been here since the seventh grade. And we’re at that point now.”
Senior free safety/wide receiver Devarious Rice caught 11 passes for 193 yards for two touchdowns. He also had two blocked punts, 60 tackles and five interceptions. He also had a defensive touchdown.
Rice has received an offer from a school and Bolding expects that at least two more seniors should receive offers to play college ball.
Coach of the Year
Bobby Bolding, Pine Bluff
• 7A/6A-South Conference champion (7-0 in league play)
• 6A state finalist
• 12-2 overall record